LITTLE ones bring a lot of love and laughter to our homes, but they can also cause so much frustration that they can push even the most level-headed parents to their breaking point. But before you unleash a slew of words you will regret, clinical psychologist Dr Pearnel Bell cautioned parents to remember that there is power in the tongue, and letting loose an untamed tongue can inflict lasting damage on a child.
Below she shares a few obvious as well as other not-so-obvious phrases parents often use that should be avoided when speaking to their children.
“Why can’t you be more like your sibling?”
Comparison is a lethal weapon; it is toxic and it can completely wipe out a child’s self-esteem, self-confidence, values, and self-worth. Constantly comparing your child not just to a sibling, but another family member, a friend, a friend’s child or just about anyone else, gives them the feeling that they will and can never make you happy, and that they are unable to measure up to those who you compare them to. As parents you have to learn to acknowledge the individual strength of your children and help them to develop their gifts and talents, rather than trying to force them into a box.
“You’re just like your mother/father!”
Many Jamaican parents are guilty of this and often, unfortunately, this is used in a manner that suggests the child will not amount to anything, is lacking something, or has undesirable characteristics. This can be a devastating blow to any child and they may grow up not only believing this, but playing into these negative attributes — because, after all, mommy or daddy said this is what I am destined to become.
“Mi shouldn’t did have you!”
This is another version of telling your child that you wish they had never been born. This is a cruel thing to say to your child and can psychologically and emotionally scar your child for life. By saying this you are telling them they were a mistake, ruined your life, and you are unhappy that you gave birth to them, among other things. Should your child say or do something that brings you so much hurt or pain that you would utter these words, remove yourself from the situation until you are calm.
“Why can’t you do anything right?”
This particular phrase that parents often use is crippling — another variation of it locally is “why yuh so baffhand”. It sends a message to the child that they are not good at anything at all and will never get “it” right. Consistently telling your child this will have them believe, in essence, that they are a failure. To inspire confidence in your child, show them compassion when they mess things up; repeat the instructions gently, and if they get it wrong, assure them they will get it right next time instead of applying unnecessary stress.
“Just get it together!”
Many parents use this phrase pretty much to say their kids need to do better. So, for example, their child gets a ‘B’ and not an ‘A’ — many parents don’t consider this the very best the child could have accomplished and instead of encouraging them to or trying to see how they can help them improve, it sends the message they can do nothing to please the parent.
One of the common things we hear parents telling a crying child is to “shut up”, or “stop crying”. We must refrain from this because it suggests to the child that it is not okay or that is bad to show emotions. Forcing them to refrain from crying may cause the child to resort to other ways of expressing sadness or become withdrawn or even silent — which may later manifest in behaviours like aggression as the child grows older. It is your duty as a parent to communicate with the crying child and to try understanding their reason for crying, even when you think their reason is baseless.
“Who taught you this?”
Children are crafty little humans and as they grow they recognise how they can easily escape punishment if they can successfully divert blame to others. Don’t give them this choice, or you could be encouraging them to create false narratives unintentionally. Instead, ask why.
For example, “why did you do that?” This forces them to give an explanation to their answer instead of finding someone else to blame. This way you can also find the underlying cause of their actions much more easily.